Re-Posting No. 8 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: Gabriel Harvey’s Address to the Court

In July of 1578. the Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey composed a Latin address to the Court during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the university. Within the printed address to Edward de Vere, which he may or may not have delivered orally, was a statement translated by B.M. Ward in 1928 as “Thy countenance shakes a spear!”  

(Defenders of the Stratfordian faith might want to counter with a less “Shakespearean”-sounding translation, such as: “Your facial expression brandishes a long wooden shaft with a sharp-pointed head!”)

A Representation of Gabriel Harvey (left) and his literary “enemy” Thomas Nashe

Oxford had met Harvey a decade or so earlier.  The earl had been “in the prime of his gallantest youth” when he had “bestowed Angels [funds] upon me in Christ’s College in Cambridge,” Harvey recalled in writing, “and otherwise vouchsafed me many gracious favors.”

“It is evident that a genuine friendship between the Earl and Harvey sprang up as a result of their early acquaintance,” Ward writes, “and it is equally evident that literature must have been the common ground on which they met. “

Gabriel Harvey was quite a character.  His role is complicated, but I suggest he’s a key to the whole Oxford-Shakespeare story. I think Harvey understood from the get-go that de Vere was a literary genius; that from those early Cambridge days onward, he was obsessed with Oxford; and that, when “Shakespeare” appeared on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton in 1593, he knew very well it was Oxford using a pen name.  I believe the two men (who were about the same age) worked together behind the scenes, in ways that have yet to become clear…

Harvey’s address was printed in “Gratulationis Valdinensis Liber Quartus” (The Fourth Book of Walden Rejoicing) in September 1578

Elizabeth was accompanied at Audley End by the whole Court including Oxford as Lord Great Chamberlain, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Philip Sidney.  Harvey delivered a Latin speech to each of these courtiers, but his address to Oxford was startling when, for example, he urged him to “throw away the insignificant pen” and honor his noble heritage by becoming a military leader in preparations for the inevitable war against Spain  (which became official in 1584).

“O great-hearted one, strong in thy mind and thy fiery will, thou wilt conquer thyself, thou wilt conquer others; thy glory will spread out in all directions beyond the Arctic Ocean; and England will put thee to the test and prove thee to be a native-born Achilles.

“Do thou but go forward boldly and without hesitation: Mars will obey thee, Hermes will be thy messenger, Pallas striking her shield with her spear shaft will attend thee, thine own breast and courageous heart will instruct thee.

“For a long time past Phoebus Apollo has cultivated thy mind in the arts!

“English poetical measures have been sung by thee long enough!

“Let that Courtly Epistle – more polished even than the writings of Castiglione himself – witness how greatly thou dost excel in letters. *

“I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts not only of the Muses of France and Italy, but has learned the manners of many men, and the arts of foreign countries.

 

“It was not for nothing that Sturmius himself was visited by thee; neither in France, Italy, nor Germany are any such cultivated and polished men.

“O thou hero worthy of renown, throw away the insignificant pen, throw away the bloodless books, and writings that serve no useful purpose; now must the sword be brought into play, now is the time for thee to sharpen the spear and to handle great engines of war…

“In thy breast is noble blood, Courage animates thy brow, Mars lives in thy tongue, Minerva strengthens thy right hand, Bellona reigns in thy body, within thee burns the fire of Mars.

“Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear; who would not swear that Achilles had come to life again?” **

Ward observed that Harvey was revealing the indisputable fact that de Vere “was well known to have written a great number of poems both in Latin and English, the majority in the latter tongue.”  The amount of his known poetry by then, however, “is quite incompatible with Harvey’s description of the Earl’s poetical output.  It is therefore evident that he must have been privileged to read Oxford’s poems in manuscript – a privilege that must also have been extended to others in the Court, because Harvey makes no secret of their existence in his open address. These facts are important and confirm what we are told by other and no less credible witnesses than Harvey that Lord Oxford stood supreme among his contemporary poets and dramatists.”

[Here’s a thought, which I insert here in this current post: If what Ward suggests is the case, that members of the Court already knew his large output of poetry by this time, many having read the verses, is there any doubt that Court members in 1593 knew very well that “Shakespeare” was none other than Oxford? My view is that the “authorship” of Shakespearean works was no “question” for the Queen, Burghley and others at the royal court, from the moment Venus and Adonis was published in that year.)

Achilles, Greek hero of the Trojan War

If we had put forth the hypothesis that the author was Edward de Vere using a pen name, imagine then coming upon this public address to him back in 1578 and ask: Given that we are talking about the greatest writer of the English language, isn’t Harvey’s description of Oxford exactly what we should expect to find?

  • Harvey is referring to Oxford’s elegant preface “To the Reader” of Bartholomew Clerke’s translation of The Courtier from Italian to Latin in 1571.

**   Check out Professor Michael Delahoyde’s comparison of Harvey’s description of Oxford as Achilles to this passage in Lucrece (1594) by “Shakespeare”:

For much imaginary work was there,

Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,

That for Achilles’ image stood his spear,

Grip’d in an armed hand, himself behind

Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind…

[Note: This post is the basis for No. 27 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford ]

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